REVIEW: Fall for Dance Festival 2012 at New York City Center: Program 1
He stuck out like a sore thumb outside of New York City Center. An unkempt outfit consisting of a black and grey plaid shirt and long cargo pants matched his crazy demeanor, the gap in his teeth, and giant grey hair. It was only after a few moments of analysis that I realized that he was begging me for an extra ticket to the Fall for Dance Festival’s opening night. The demand has never been higher for the popular series, now in its ninth year. Expanded to 12 evenings, Fall for Dance provides a unique glimpse into the world of dance today. A program of unbiased diversity offers glimpses into the current state of ballet, modern, tap, flamenco, contemporary, hip-hop and everything else under the sun. I took my seat in the beautiful theater and admired the eclectic program when I saw our desperate grey-haired friend sitting two rows in front of me. He made it.
To begin the evening was Jared Grimes with Transformation in Tap. A narrated tour of his professional dance career, the work was lovingly simple in its effort to display not only Mr. Grimes’s talent, but also his diversity in tap shoes. Grimes and his four backup dancers began on stage while the voice overhead provided smarmy and cliché commentary. Utilizing thinly veiled metaphors (“I sometimes felt like a mad scientist”; cue background dancers in lab coats), the piece explored every region of Mr. Grimes’s history including Broadway, jazz, hip-hop, and unfiltered tap. The ambitious work moved abruptly from genre to genre hoping to keep the audience interested in the director’s personal journey. Unfortunately, the impressive technique took a backseat to the forced storytelling and the rare glimpses of excitement caused a roller coaster of interest.
NDT highlighted the evening with a short declaration of brilliance
Fang-Yi Sheu took the stage next, providing Five Movements, Three Repeats with choreography by Christopher Wheeldon. Ms. Sheu boasts a wonderful history as a principal of the Martha Graham Dance Company while her veteran cast also included the talents of Tyler Angle, Craig Hall, and Wendy Whelan (all NYCB). A solo, two duets, and a group piece were separated by a repeating scene filled with chaotic yet controlled form. Without reference to one another, each dancer performs a short phrase to a composition by Max Richter. After each “movement” and “repeat” however, was a blackout, completely cutting off any choreographic momentum from one section to the next. The audience was forced to absorb eight separate sections with pauses rather than one continuous idea. The impressive talents of each dancer were overshadowed by a poor decision by Mr. Wheeldon to ignore the pace of the piece.
above: Fang-Yi Sheu and Artists “3 Movements and 4 Repeats” | Photo Erin Baiano
Afterwards, Nederlands Dans Theater, one of the most revered contemporary companies in the world, offered Shutters Shut, a short duet choreographed by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot. Using Gertrude Stein’s reading of her own poem, “If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso”, the work is a gestural study of the rhythmic writing of Ms. Stein. Refined in its simplicity, the performers match each word in the poem with a specific movement as they slowly travel across stage. The two dancers wore unitards with black on one side and white on the other giving the image of a shutter as the movements changed facings rapidly.
Find our Fall for Dance Festival 2012 reviews here.
Though only several minutes long, the design of the work is accomplished and satisfying. Each word is pronounced through the bodies on stage and we begin to understand each sentence by subtle variations of the choreography. It is deceptively simple because an improperly rehearsed version would yield disaster and confusion. Instead, the masterful accuracy of the NDT dancers delivers the clarity and subtlety that Shutters Shut requires. A reminder of quality over quantity, NDT highlighted the evening with a short declaration of brilliance.
To close the evening, BalletBoyz, an entirely male company originally from London took the stage. Well, first they began with a film detailing the company’s journey across the pond and then transitioned into a prologue of Void. Donning dark hooded sweatshirts on the streets of London, the boys (or boyz) demonstrated their most dramatic poses and their ability to run around to a rock soundtrack.
When the screen vanished, the BalletBoyz welcomed us with a healthy dose of fog and scenery change. The back drop was removed, displaying all of City Center’s inner workings and projected on top was a video of dimly lit urban areas. The set design was quite beautiful and the music collaborated with the flickering background to create a cohesive portrait of a foggy London evening. However, dressed in grey graphic tees and sleeveless hoodies, the choreography presented each talented youth as a combination of sexy and misunderstood. Clichés and awkward attempts at drama convinced my grey-haired partner (remember him?) that he’d seen enough and he promptly left the theater after only a few minutes.
above: The Balletboyz “VOID” | Photo Panayiotis Sinnos
Each dancer possessed incredible skill but it was eclipsed by an attempt to brand the BalletBoyz as the next cool thing. After flying through a unison phrase of impeccable precision and technique, the boys (boyz) would pause for a moment to undress a few people with their eyes. A shirtless duet later in the piece did nothing to ease the concerns that the boys were being melodramatic.
Overall, the program left much to be desired. Only moments of cohesion and satisfaction peppered the evening while larger ambitions to appeal to every audience member fell flat. I wish I had been able to catch up with my once-desperate patron, but he had long vanished to some other venue, begging for admission. Would he come back? Was this evening enough to fall for dance?
Fall For Dance Festival takes place at New York City Center Sep 27 – Oct 13. Watch for continuing DancePulp coverage on DancePulp’s Blog